On The Forgotten Arm, her fifth album, Mann again makes the music mirror her stories, which this time, in unabashed concept-album style, chart the relationship of two lovers named John and Caroline.
Too often this results in a sound as tedious and glazed-over as the most average day in a couple's life. Mann's pinched croon is still as oddly affecting as ever, and she pulls off a handful of melodies that impressively weave in and out of minor-key melancholy.
But in an attempt to get away from the fussy studiocraft that Mann's historically indulged in, producer Joe Henry flattens everything happening beneath Mann's voice: The Forgotten Arm isn't the live, off-the-cuff effort Mann and Henry were after, but an overly polite mishmash of waxy piano and bland strum. Next time you're buying diapers, crank it up.